May 12, 2011
Today, May 12, 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released Combating the Silent Epidemic: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Action Plan for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis (read the full "Action Plan" here, PDF 672KB). At 1 pm EST today, HHS officials and community representatives will meet in Washington DC to discuss the Action Plan. I encourage you to watch a live webcast of the event.
Although hepatitis is a leading infectious cause of death and claims the lives of 12,000-15,000 Americans each year, viral hepatitis remains virtually unknown to health-care providers, the general public, at-risk populations, and policymakers. As a consequence, most of the 3.5-5.3 million Americans living with viral hepatitis do not know that they are infected, which places them at greater risk for severe, even fatal, complications from the disease and increases the likelihood that they will unwittingly spread the virus to others. Persons living with untreated viral hepatitis are at increased risk for liver cancer and chronic liver disease.
"Persons with HIV also are disproportionately affected by viral hepatitis and related adverse health conditions. Because HIV, HBV [hepatitis b], and HCV [hepatitis c] share common modes of transmission, namely, sexual and intravenous drug-related activities, one third of HIV-infected persons are co-infected with HBV or HCV. The progression of viral hepatitis is accelerated among persons with HIV; therefore, persons who are co-infected experience greater liver-related health problems than non-HIV infected persons."
The HHS Action Plan describes opportunities to improve coordination of viral hepatitis activities across HHS operating divisions. The Action Plan also sets priorities for HHS to facilitate the development of a public-health and a primary-care infrastructure that is needed for viral hepatitis prevention and care at the Federal, state, and local levels. In addition, the Action Plan provides HHS with the framework needed to engage other governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations in viral hepatitis prevention and care. Learn more about hepatitis and HIV at AIDS.gov.
Christopher Bates, M.P.A., is executive director, Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, and senior advisor to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, Infectious Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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